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Bridging the Gender Gap in Oil and Gas

The rigidity of the oil and gas industry makes it difficult for women to participate.

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Illustration by Anna Donlan

A recent report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) explores an untapped reserve that the oil and gas industry has slept on for years: women.

As the Houston Chronicle reported, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that women represent only 14.5 percent of the workforce in oil and gas. For scale, in technology—which is famously hostile to women—25.5 percent of the industry is female.

According to the report—which was done in conjunction with the World Petroleum Council and will be updated every three years to coincide with the World Petroleum Congress—the paltry number of women in the industry are “disproportionately in office jobs; they have a very limited presence both in technical roles, which are often considered prerequisites for career advancement, and in upper management.”

BCG says that the lack of gender diversity manifests in three main ways: a smaller pool of qualified candidates to draw from; the teamwork, creative problem solving, and perspective that women exhibit in higher percentages; and the lowered credibility associated with few women in senior leadership roles (there’s a steep drop between the percentage of women in middle-management and senior leadership—from 25 to 17 percent).

Should this trend continue, the consequences for the industry could be dire, according to BCG:

The combined effects could ultimately weigh heavily on oil and gas companies’ ability to increase capital productivity, which will be vital as they wrestle with the challenges posed by the potential large-scale retirement of many experienced employees, an ongoing uncertain oil price environment, and advances in robotics and artificial intelligence that could reshape the industry in a host of ways.

But to promote more women into meaningful roles—or even being able to recruit them at all—will require a major overhaul in the industry. As BCG pointed out, not only is the boys’ club aesthetic daunting for women, but the industry has “structural barriers” that make it difficult for women with families. This leads to a drop in job satisfaction for women mid-career, and can also affect the ability for women to move up to executive positions.

Certainly, career limitations for women who have families are not unique to the oil and gas industry. But it seems less likely that significant changes will be made when the very people these policies would help the most aren’t in the room. Women could be beneficial and even critical to the future of oil and gas, but accessing the resource will take more than a drill.

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